Thursday, August 28, 2008

Kosi devastates Bihar; 2 million homeless

PATNA: This is India's Katrina, only the challenges could be bigger. Like the Mississippi breached the levee to drown an unsuspecting New Orleans in the US, the mighty Kosi river in north Bihar has broken its embankment to pick up a channel it had abandoned over 200 years ago, drowning towns, numerous villages and rendering over a million homeless. Many are reported to have died.
Officials here say it's a catastrophe unlike annual floods. The brimming river has breached its embankment near the Bhimnagar barrage, close to the Nepal border, and is rushing down as a miles-wide stream to the Ganga, over almost 100km south. Unlike floods, this is not calm water but an angry torrent, making relief work very difficult.
Bihar CM Nitish Kumar said on Monday that over 2 million people have been affected by the Kosi. Ranjeeta Ranjan, MP from Saharsa, one of the flood-hit districts, said that over a million have become homeless. She said that over a hundred have died and she had personally seen bodies in the roiling waters.
What's alarming officials is that the 3km wide breach is growing by about 200 metres a day. The Bhimnagar barrage is just 12km away, and should the breach reach the barrage, huge inhabited areas of Supaul, Saharsa, Araria, Madhepura, Katihar and Purnea districts would be drowned, spelling an even bigger disaster.
Repair work on the breach has to be undertaken in Nepal, but when an Indian team reached there, it had to leave in the face of violent protests. Officials say full Central involvement in disaster management is essential — both to take up the issue with Nepal and for assistance in relief.
Posted by Chandan

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